Rowna Williams goes for that With The Beatles look
On Maundy Thursday each year, the Archbishop of Canterbury performs the ritual of the washing of the feet in imitation of Jesus. On Radio 4 this morning, he suggested that the rich and powerful learn about charity and humility by working with the poor for a few hours. It's a nice Easter message befitting of a vicar at this time of year, but he couldn't just leave it at that. He had to preface it with those six little words that are as sacred in modern society as anything in the scripture:
"What about having a new law..."
Ah, the great cry of our age. The words on everyone's lips. Such is the thirst for law-making you would think we were building a nation from scratch.
The quote in full:
"What about having a new law that made all cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate? Or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home? Walking around the streets … at night as a pastor, ready to pick up and absorb something of the chaos and human mess you'll find?"
Again, there's nothing wrong with the sentiment. Certainly, there is a perception that the rich and powerful are out of touch, just as there is a perception that the wealthy could do more for charity. Whether those perceptions are correct is not always easy to tell since it is considered vulgar to boast about the work you do for charity. And rightly so. But Rowan Williams—for it is he—thinks that charitable work would be more virtuous if it was compulsory.
"Maybe having to do it, to do it in public and not to be able to make any sort of capital out of it because they had no choice?
Williams could not be wronger. Charitable acts enforced by coercion are not worthy of the name, just as charities that are funded by the state without the consent of the taxpayer are not charities. It would be more noble to make "capital" out of charitable acts than to do them because you have "no choice."
If you're a religious man—as I assume the Archbishop of Canterbury is (although it's hard to tell with the Church of England)—charity and humility are very important to your faith. There is, however, a division between Church and State; a division that Williams seems not to recognise.
It's been a while since I read the Bible but I don't remember Jesus calling for new laws to be made. I do recall him saying something about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's and rendering unto God what is God's. On that basis, the Archbishop of Canterbury should his beak out of politics and achieve his goals through the power of prayer.